Kalām cosmological argument

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The Kalām cosmological argument (sometimes capitalized Kalām Cosmological Argument, or abbreviated KCA) is a modern defense (or re-formulation) of the cosmological argument for the existence of God rooted in the Kalām heritage. An outspoken defender of the argument is analytic philosopher William Lane Craig, who first defended the argument in his book The Kalām Cosmological Argument (1979). Since the 1990s, the Kalām Cosmological Argument has elicited a flourishing of philosophical discourse and public debate between Craig and his critics including Graham Oppy, Adolf Grünbaum, J. L. Mackie and Quentin Smith, and has served as a key component of the revival of Christian apologetics in response to the New Atheism.[1] According to Michael Martin (philosopher), Craig's revised argument is "among the most sophisticated and well argued in contemporary theological philosophy", along with versions of the cosmological argument presented by Bruce Reichenbach and Richard Swinburne.[2]

Craig has appealed to both metaphysical arguments and scientific evidence in formulating and defending the argument; among these, arguing against the possibility of the existence of actual infinities. Craig traces the latter idea to 11th-century philosopher Al-Ghazali, and for this reason calls this variant of cosmological argument the Kalām cosmological argument (from Ilm al-Kalam "science of discourse", the Arabic term for the discipline of rational, speculative theology in Islam).

Form of the argument[edit]

Craig states the Kalām cosmological argument as a brief syllogism, most commonly rendered as follows:[3]

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause;
  2. The universe began to exist;
  3. The universe has a cause.

From the conclusion of the initial syllogism, he appends a further premise and conclusion based upon ontological analysis of the properties of the cause:[4]

  1. The universe has a cause;
  2. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful;
  3. An uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.

Referring to the implications of Classical Theism that follow from this argument, Craig writes:

"This, as Thomas Aquinas was wont to remark, is what everybody means by 'God".

Historical background[edit]

The cosmological argument is based on the concept of the prime-mover, introduced by Aristotle, and entered early Christian or Neoplatonist philosophy in Late Antiquity, being developed by John Philoponus.[5] Along with much of classical Greek philosophy, the concept was adopted into medieval Islamic tradition, where it "receiv[ed] its fullest articulation at the hands of Muslim and Jewish exponents of [Ilm al-]Kalam",[6] most directly by Islamic theologians of the Sunni tradition (Aqidah wasitiyyah by Ibn Taymiyyah). Its historic proponents include Al-Kindi,[7] Saadia Gaon,[8] Al-Ghazali,[9] and St. Bonaventure.[10][11][12]

One of the earliest formations of the cosmological argument in Islamic tradition comes from Al-Kindi (9th century), who was one of the first Islamic philosophers to attempt to introduce an argument for the existence of God based upon purely empirical premises. His chief contribution is the cosmological argument (dalil al-huduth) for the existence of God, in his work "On First Philosophy".[13] He writes:

"Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins; therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning."[14]

Between the 9th to 12th centuries, the cosmological argument developed as a concept within Islamic theology. It was refined in the 11th century by Al-Ghazali (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), and in the 12th by Ibn Rushd (Averroes). It reached medieval Christian philosophy in the 13th century, and was discussed by Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas.[15]

Two kinds of Islamic perspectives may be considered with regard to the cosmological argument. A positive Aristotelian response strongly supporting the argument and a negative response which is quite critical of it. Among the Aristotelian thinkers are Al-Kindi, and Averroes. In contrast Al-Ghazali and Muhammad Iqbal[16] may be seen as being in opposition to this sort of an argument.

Al-Ghazali was unconvinced by the first-cause arguments of Al-Kindi, arguing that only the infinite per se is impossible, arguing for the possibility of the infinite per accidens. In response to this, he writes:

"According to the hypothesis under consideration, it has been established that all the beings in the world have a cause. Now, let the cause itself have a cause, and the cause of the cause have yet another cause, and so on ad infinitum. It does not behove you to say that an infinite regress of causes is impossible."[17]

Muhammad Iqbal also stated:

"A finite effect can give only a finite cause, or at most an infinite series of such causes. To finish the series at a certain point, and to elevate one member of the series to the dignity of an un-caused first cause, is to set at naught the very law of causation on which the whole argument proceeds."

Modern debate[edit]

The Kalām cosmological argument has received criticism from philosophers such as J. L. Mackie, Graham Oppy, Michael Martin, Quentin Smith, physicists Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss and Victor Stenger, and authors such as Dan Barker.[18] Criticism and discussion include the disciplines of philosophy (with a focus on logic) as well as science (with a focus on physics and cosmology). Bruce Reichenbach provides a summary of the dispute as: "whether there needs to be a cause of the first natural existent, whether something like the universe can be finite and yet not have a beginning, and the nature of infinities and their connection with reality".[19] Michael Martin, Professor Emeritus at Boston University, concludes after analysis that "Craig's defense of the cosmological argument fails."[20] Among various philosophical weaknesses he asserts exist in Craig's position, he states that "even if the universe has a beginning in time, in the light of recently proposed cosmological theories this beginning may be uncaused. Despite Craig's claim that theories postulating that the universe 'could pop into existence uncaused' are incapable of 'sincere affirmation,' such similar theories are in fact being taken seriously by scientists."[20]

Premise One: Causality and Quantum Mechanics[edit]

Craig has defended the first premise as rationally intuitive knowledge, based upon the properly basic metaphysical intuition that "something cannot come into being from nothing", or "Ex nihilo nihil fit", which originates from Parmenidean ontology.[21] He points out that this knowledge is assumed as a critically important first principle of science, and that it is affirmed by interaction with the physical world; for if it were false, it would be impossible to explain why objects do not randomly appear into existence without a cause.[22]

According to Bruce Reichenbach, "the Causal Principle has been the subject of extended criticism."[23] A common criticism of premise one appeals to the phenomenon of quantum indeterminacy, where, at that the subatomic level, the causal principle appears to break down. Philosopher Quentin Smith has cited the example of virtual particles, which appear and disappear from observation, apparently at random, in his critique of the first premise of the Kalām Cosmological Argument.[24] In his popular science book A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss has proposed how quantum mechanics can explain how space-time and matter can emerge from "nothing" (referring to the quantum vacuum).

Philosopher of science David Albert has subjected Krauss's hypothesis to criticism, accusing him of misleading use of the term "nothing".[25] Likewise, Craig has argued that virtual particles are not really without cause, but a product of the quantum vacuum, which contains quantifiable, measurable energy. He writes:

"For virtual particles do not literally come into existence spontaneously out of nothing. Rather the energy locked up in a vacuum fluctuates spontaneously in such a way as to convert into evanescent particles that return almost immediately to the vacuum."[26]

On quantum indeterminacy, Craig specifies that the phenomenon of indeterminism is specific to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, pointing out that this is only one of a number of different interpretations, some of which are fully deterministic and none of which are as yet known to be true, concluding that subatomic physics is not a proven exception to the first premise.[27]

Premise Two: Cosmology and Actual Infinities[edit]

Craig has defended the second premise using both appeals to scientific evidence and philosophical arguments: Firstly, with evidence from cosmology, and secondly using an a posteriori argument for the metaphysical impossibility of actual infinities. For the former, he appeals to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem,[28] a cosmological theorem which deduces that any universe that has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary. Craig writes:

"What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds regardless of the physical description of the universe prior to the Planck time. Because we can’t yet provide a physical description of the very early universe, this brief moment has been fertile ground for speculations. ... But the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem is independent of any physical description of that moment. Their theorem implies that even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called “multiverse” composed of many universes, the multiverse must have an absolute beginning."[29]

At the "State of the Universe" conference at Cambridge University in January 2012, Professor Alexander Vilenkin, one of the three authors of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, discussed problems with various theories that would claim to avoid the need for a cosmological beginning, exposing the untenability of eternal inflation, cyclic and cosmic egg models, eventually concluding: "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning."[30]

On actual infinities, Craig asserts the metaphysical impossibility of an actually infinite series of past events by citing David Hilbert's famous Hilbert's Hotel thought experiment and Laurence Sterne's story of Tristam Shandy.[31]

Michael Martin states that "Craig's a priori arguments are unsound or show at most that actual infinities have odd properties".[32] He continues with the statement that "This latter fact is well known, however, and shows nothing about whether it is logically impossible to have actual infinities in the real world. ... [and] Craig fails to show that there is anything logically inconsistent about an actual infinity existing in reality."[33]

Properties of the Cause and Theological Implications[edit]

In the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Craig discusses the properties of the cause of the universe that follow necessarily from the initial syllogism of the Kalām cosmological argument:[34]

  1. A first state of the universe cannot have a naturalistic explanation, because no natural explanation can be causally prior to the very existence of the natural world (space-time and its contents). It follows necessarily that the cause is outside of space and time (timeless, spaceless), immaterial, and enormously powerful, in bringing the entirety of material reality into existence.
  2. Even if positing a plurality of causes prior to the origin of the universe, the causal chain must terminate in a cause which is absolutely first and uncaused, otherwise an infinite regress of causal priority would arise.
  3. Only personal, free agency can account for the origin of a first temporal effect from a changeless cause. Agent causation, volitional action, is the only ontological condition in which an effect can arise in the absence of prior determining conditions.
  4. Abstract objects, the only other identified ontological candidate with the properties of being uncaused, spaceless, timeless and immaterial, do not sit in causal relationships, nor can they exercise volitional causal power.

He concludes that the cause of the existence of the universe is an "uncaused, personal Creator ... who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful"; remarking upon the theological implications of this union of properties.

Michael Martin states that "it should be obvious that Craig's conclusion that a single personal agent created the universe is a non sequitur. At most, this Kalam argument shows that some personal agent or agents created the universe. Craig cannot validly conclude that a single agent is the creator. On the contrary, for all he shows, there may have been trillions of personal agents involved in the creation."[35] Martin also states that Craig takes his argument too far beyond what his premises allow, in that the creating agent is greater than the universe. Martin notes the example of a parent who creates a child greater than he or she. Martin further notes that Craig's claim of creation "ex nihilo" is not justified, pointing out additional possibilities besides this.[36]

Theories of time[edit]

The Kalām Cosmological Argument is predicated upon the A-theory of time, as opposed to its alternative, the B-theory of time. The latter would allow the universe to exist tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block, under which circumstances the universe would not "begin to exist".[37] Craig has defended the A-theory against objections[which?] from J. M. E. McTaggart and Hybrid A-B theorists.[38][39]


  1. ^ see Graham Smith, “Arguing about the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Philo, 5(1), 2002: 34–61. See also Bruce Reichenbach, Cosmological Argument in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (first published Tue Jul 13, 2004; substantive revision Fri Oct 26, 2012)
  2. ^ Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  3. ^ Craig, Moreland 2009:102
  4. ^ Craig, Moreland 2009:194
  5. ^ "it was first formulated by a Greek-speaking Syriac Christian neo-Platonist, John Philoponus, who claims to find a contradiction between the Greek pagan insistence on the eternity of the world and the Aristotelian rejection of the existence of any actual infinite." Duncan, S., Analytic philosophy of religion: its history since 1955 (2010), Humanities-Ebooks, p. 165.
  6. ^ Duncan, S., Analytic philosophy of religion: its history since 1955 (2010), Humanities-Ebooks, p. 165.
  7. ^ Al-Kindi, On First Philosophy, with an Introduction and Commentary by Alfred L. Ivry (Albany, N. Y.: State University of New York Press, 1974), pp. 67–75
  8. ^ Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. Samuel Rosenblatt (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1948), pp. 41–44
  9. ^ al Ghazali, Kitab al lqtisad, with a foreword by Î. A. Çubukçu and H. Atay (Ankara: University of Ankara Press, 1962), pp. 15–16.
  10. ^ Francis J. Kovach, 'The Question of the Eternity of the World in St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas – A Critical Analysis', Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 5 (1974), pp. 141–172.
  11. ^ Smith, Quentin (2007). "Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism". In Martin, Michael. The Cambridge companion to atheism. Cambridge University Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-521-84270-9. 
  12. ^ Craig, William Lane; The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2000); ISBN 978-1-57910-438-2
  13. ^ Nasr, trans. Seyyed Hossein, An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Albany : State University of New York Press, 1993 pp. 168
  14. ^ Craig 1994: 80
  15. ^ Averroes, Ibn Rushd, The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafut) London:Luzac, 1954, pp. 58
  16. ^ Iqbal, Muhammad The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam Lahore:Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986
  17. ^ Al-Ghazzali, Tahafut Al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of Philosophers), translated by Sabih Ahmad Kamali. Lahore: Pakistan Philosophical Congress, 1963 pp. 90–91
  18. ^ Reichenbach 2008: 4.1
  19. ^ Reichenbach, Bruce, "Cosmological Argument", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/cosmological-argument/>.
  20. ^ a b Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  21. ^ Craig, Moreland 2009: 182-190
  22. ^ Craig 1994: 92
  23. ^ Reichenbach, Bruce, "Cosmological Argument", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/cosmological-argument/>.
  24. ^ Smith, Q (1988), "The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe," Philosophy of Science 55:39-57.
  25. ^ David Albert, "On the Origin of Everything 'A Universe From Nothing,' by Lawrence M. Krauss" The New York Times, March 23, 2012, BR20
  26. ^ "The Caused Beginning of the Universe: a Response to Quentin Smith." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (1993): 623-639.
  27. ^ Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity P. 469
  28. ^ A. Borde, A. Guth and A. Vilenkin (2003). "Inflationary space-times are incomplete in past directions". Physical Review Letters 90 (15): 151301.
  29. ^ http://www.reasonablefaith.org/contemporary-cosmology-and-the-beginning-of-the-universe
  30. ^ http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328474.400-why-physicists-cant-avoid-a-creation-event.html
  31. ^ Craig 1996
  32. ^ Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  33. ^ Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 104–105. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  34. ^ Craig, Moreland 2009: 193-194
  35. ^ Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  36. ^ Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 103–104. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  37. ^ Craig, Moreland 2009: 183–184
  38. ^ Oaklander, L. Nathan (2002). "Presentism, Ontology and Temporal Experience". In Craig Callender. Time, reality & experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 73–90. ISBN 978-0-521-52967-9. 
  39. ^ Balashov, Yuri; Janssen, Michel (2003). "Presentism and Relativity". British Jnl. for the Philosophy of Sci. (Oxford University Press) 54 (2): 327–346. doi:10.1093/bjps/54.2.327. Retrieved 2014-04-11. 

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